Less than two months after the Los Angeles Clippers shipped him to the Phoenix Suns, Caron Butler is now on his way to the third team involved in that early July three-way dance. New Suns general manager Ryan McDonough has flipped the veteran small forward to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for a pair of 25-year-old end-of-the-bench reserves, guard Ish Smith and center Viacheslav Kravtsov (whom you can and should feel free to call "Slava"), with the Bucks confirming the completion of the deal Thursday afternoon.
The deal — first reported by Gery Woelfel of the Racine, Wis., Journal Times, seconded by ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, and subsequently confirmed by Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic and Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel — marks a homecoming for the 33-year-old Butler, who grew up in Racine, about 20 minutes outside Milwaukee. The Bucks will be Butler's seventh team in a 12-year NBA career that's included stints with the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Washington Wizards, Dallas Mavericks, Clippers and Suns; that last stint, though, spanned just seven weeks and featured no actual gameplay. Oh, well. At least he got to wear a sleeved jersey that one time.
Despite McDonough's claim during the press conference introducing Butler and guard Eric Bledsoe that he's long had a "man crush on" Butler and that the UConn product would be part of the team’s future, keeping Caron around didn't seem to make very much sense for these Suns. Sure, having a respected veteran in the locker room is never a bad thing for a team as young as Phoenix — the Suns' current roster includes 10 players age 24 or younger, and 10 players with three or fewer years of pro hoops experience — but Butler's $8 million 2013-14 salary is an awful lot to pay someone just to help ride herd on a pack of pups, especially on what figures to be one of the NBA's very worst teams this season. While they haven't made any earth-shattering moves this summer, the Bucks aren't quite in the same category, and Butler should help an already-thin wing rotation that may be without recently re-signed small forward Carlos Delfino, who's recovering from offseason foot surgery, to start the season.
At this stage of his career, Butler isn't a top-flight option at the three — he's shot just 41.5 percent from the floor over the past two seasons, just about all his per-minute and efficiency stats have dipped and he's clearly lost lateral quickness as he's aged, and it became clear by the end of last season that Matt Barnes was a better fit for L.A. on both ends of the floor than Caron. He is, however, a steadier bet for new head coach Larry Drew than the likes of super-raw rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo and unproven sophomore Khris Middleton, who, like Kravtsov, just joined the Bucks from the Detroit Pistons in last month's Brandon Jennings/Brandon Knight swap.
Butler remains a reliable midrange shooter and, while he's been inconsistent from deep throughout his NBA career, he's become much better from the short corners over the years and he's fresh off shooting 38.8 percent from 3-point range on a career-high number of attempts per game in L.A. last year. Plugging him into a lineup that features the new-look backcourt of Knight and O.J. Mayo and a frontcourt headlined by recently re-upped center Larry Sanders and stalwart stretch-four Ersan Ilyasova won't turn the Bucks into world-beaters, but Butler's scoring instincts, toughness on the wing and actual experience playing NBA basketball should help improve them at least a bit, possibly putting Milwaukee in the conversation for their annual run at the East's No. 8 seed. (Please, please, hold your applause, Brew Hoop.)
Improving this year's team with available cap space while losing no talent of consequence — Smith, the last vestige of the ill-fated J.J. Redick deal that "headlined" last season's super-dull trade deadline, was unlikely to see many minutes behind Knight and offseason acquisitions Luke Ridnour, Gary Neal and rookie Nate Wolters, and the same was likely true for Kravtsov, who looked to slot in behind Sanders, Ekpe Udoh and offseason signings Zaza Pachulia and Miroslav Raduljica at the five — and maintaining future cap space makes this a decent deal for a Milwaukee team that had no shot of being a serious contender but, once again, seems unwilling to take itself out of the running for a playoff berth in exchange for a shot at a higher-end lottery pick.
From the Suns' perspective, wiping Butler's expiring contract off the books while adding Kravtsov (due $1.5 million this season) and Smith (owed $951,463) buys McDonough and company just under $5.55 million in cap space, which you'd have to imagine will be used to make the seemingly inevitable waiving of persistent problem child forward Michael Beasley a bit less onerous and more palatable. As Grantland's Zach Lowe notes, the Suns could wait until Sept. 1 to jettison the remaining $9 million in guaranteed money owed to Beasley over the next two years, because doing so "allows them to eat $6 million of [his] cap hit this season," rather than carry it forward.
Plus, moving Butler and losing Beasley opens up more minutes at the three for P.J. Tucker and Gerald Green. ... OK, so that's not the most exciting piece of news, Suns fans, but hey, such is the nature of rebuilding and bottoming out. This could also mean we see more pairings of twins Markieff and Marcus Morris at the three and four in the desert, which, if nothing else, could present some Conquistadors-switch-type possibilities.
The journey southwest probably doesn't help Smith or Kravtsov much, as the Suns already have Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, sophomore Kendall Marshall and rookie Archie Goodwin at the point, and Marcin Gortat, rookie Alex Len, recent acquisition Miles Plumlee and (maybe) Channing Frye in the middle. With the Suns' roster already looking crowded — the ex-Bucks, plus a finalized deal for No. 5 pick Len, would give Phoenix 17 guaranteed contracts, two more than the maximum number of roster slots — they could be cheaply waived before the start of the season, as Kravtsov is owed just under $1.88 million for 2014-15 and Smith's '14-'15 contract is wholly unguaranteed.